How Do You Step Into a Leadership Role and Make it Your Own?

Never an easy task…

The election of a new Pope can teach us some things about leadership transition….perhaps.

Although we’re only in its third month, 2013 has proved to be quite an interesting time for leaders throughout the world. We’ve witnessed the second historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, the second historic Super Bowl win for Ray Lewis, and the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. 

Pope Benedict’s resignation presents a unique set of challenges to one of the oldest and most complex organizations around – the Catholic Church. The church has been in existence for over 2,000 years.

Times they are a changing… so how does one of the world’s largest and oldest institutions manage such a significant transition in leadership?

Here are 3 high level principles to being successful during leadership transition:

1.     Incoming and outgoing leaders’ communicate with your stakeholders early and often – and with one another

2.     Have a transition plan in place for the leader(s) and the organization

3.     Remain as transparent as appropriate regarding the process and next steps

Serving as an example regarding leadership transition and legacy, the man who was to follow John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, had big shoes to fill. Pope John Paul II is a man who came across as a kind and genuine leader, a man who really wanted to change the world for the better. Sure he faced his leadership issues, but what leader doesn’t? Not an easy leader to replace.


So when Pope Benedict was elected Pope after a relatively short Papal Conclave, much of the world waited with bated breath to see how the transition would happen and how this new leader would compare. This obviously presented quite a challenge, one that I suspect any new CEO, elected government official, or perhaps anyone who’s ever stepped into a leadership role can relate to: how do you step into a leadership role and make it your own, all while upholding the organization’s integrity and system of beliefs (vision and values)? 

The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision. —Ken Blanchard

So how do you step into a leadership role and make it your own?

  • Reiterate the organizations values and mission and vision to your followers and your plan for how to achieve those.
  • Be yourself. Bring who you are and your way of doing things. Establish a presence.
  • Acknowledge the past and help others let go of it while at the same time guiding the organization toward the future.


Perhaps the 
organizational culture of the Catholic Church is a bit more intense than, say; McDonalds, but the new Pope and a new corporate leader face many of the same challenges. With the Papal Conclave starting this week–  it’s worth following the transition process for additional lessons applicable in business, leadership and transition. As business leaders, who knows what we will learn from the election and reign of this new Pope – particularly in such turbulent times.

There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage. —Fuchan Yuan

Oh, and for any of you Catholics out there who may be interested in the job… guess what? It turns out than anyone with the fortune of being born male and baptized Catholic has the opportunity of submitting their name to the College of CardinalsSo if you qualify, hurry up and go ahead, submit your name. Just remember, if you are elected, it was me who had the suggestion. And I’d really like a personalized tour of the Vatican.  

“I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace.” – Pope Benedict XVI 

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions - an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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